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‘The Journey Continues’ As Farrell’s Ireland Flick To Six Nations Mode

Andy Farrell and Peter O’Mahony with the Guinness Six Nations trophy 22/1/2024

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell and newly-appointed captain Peter O'Mahony are pictured with the Six Nations trophy ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

The page has been turned on the disappointment of their Rugby World quarter-final exit, as the Ireland squad assembled on Monday ahead of the start of the Guinness Six Nations next week.

For head coach Andy Farrell and his newly-appointed captain Peter O’Mahony, they have their sights very much on that first game against France at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome on Friday week.

Ireland are the defending Six Nations champions, having won their fourth Grand Slam last season when they matched the clean sweeps of 1948, 2009, and 2018. It is a notoriously difficult Championship to win, and even harder to retain.

Having overseen 21 wins in 24 Tests, including an Irish record 17-match winning streak, Farrell’s men have had an enviable consistency to their game in terms of results in recent years, so keeping that up and securing Six Nations silverware again is the obvious target.

“We all know that winning a Six Nations is very hard to do because of the standard of the teams that we’ve got in the competition continues to grow, and that’s why we all love it,” he said, speaking at the 2024 Championship’s launch at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.

“What does success look like? We want to win every game and winning matters. I’ve never been one from shying away from that. I’ll say the same.”

Adaptability in adversity is an aspect of the game that Farrell frequently referenced during the 2023 Six Nations. That sentiment stands true again this time around.

“We’re realists and we know that it’s difficult. I suppose every team in the competition,  as we stand today, would love to be in with a shout on the last weekend to be able to go on and win that.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of water that gets put under the bridge. You’ve got to roll with the punches especially in the Six Nations because it changes the whole time and that’s why we love it.

“It’s about getting ourselves to be in with a shout, however that may look on the final weekend. That has to be what we’re aiming for.”

The 34-man Ireland squad gathered at the IRFU High Performance Centre yesterday, along with uncapped training panellists Oli Jager and Sam Prendergast. They will fly out to Portugal on Wednesday for a pre-tournament training camp in Quinta do Lago.

Meanwhile, Farrell explained how he is ‘over’ the disappointment of falling at the World Cup quarter-final hurdle, and while he admits that they will reflect on that in camp, it is very much about getting on with business as they prepare to face France first up.

“Yeah, first meeting this afternoon, where we’ll be open and honest. We are open and honest in the sense that any type of victory in the past, you make sure you use every opportunity to grow and try to understand it together.

“It’s the only way you move on, by addressing things, and we’ll certainly be doing that over the next couple of weeks.”

A Six Nations campaign demands a lot from teams, both physically and mentally. Ireland also have a mouth-watering two-Test tour to South Africa in the summer, as they renew rivalries with the back-to-back World champions.

Farrell is hoping his charges can maintain the level of performance that helped them build an electric connection with the fans, which was very evident during their World Cup journey. He wants to continue to grow that momentum.

I don’t buy into that (talk) neither – is it bittersweet and everything that went on as far as the feeling within the World Cup. I was unbelievably proud of how we connected with our fans and did it together.

“That, for me, continues by how we get back on the horse and I’m not saying that will translate to another big ‘W’ in Marseille. I’m not saying that. We’re talking about being proud about how we go about our business, to want to keep evolving our game.

“The journey continues. If you look at what we’ve got, first game in Marseille, unbelievable stadium, unbelievable atmosphere.

“A lot of the Irish who had flights for the (World Cup) semi-final, I heard a lot of them transferred it to Marseille so they’re expecting a performance from us.

“We’ve got to stand up to responsibilities like that. Again, it doesn’t guarantee us being successful. We’ve got to show fight and then the rest of the Six Nations is ahead of us.

“You look at what we’ve got after that, the trip to South Africa and two games against South Africa, it doesn’t really get any better as an Irish management, as an Irish player, or as an Irish fan.”

O’Mahony takes over from the retired Jonathan Sexton as captain, having led Ireland on 10 previous occasions. He captained Munster to the BKT United Rugby Championship title last season, and previously skippered the British & Irish Lions for their 2017 first Test against New Zealand.

The 34-year-old flanker did admit that he considered retirement in the wake of last October’s defeat to the All Blacks, and Farrell was fully aware that the Corkman briefly took some time to think about his future in the game.

“I always speak to players, no matter what. To me, it’s the same as anything. It’s about how you’re performing and how you’re playing. Certainly, whether your form warrants getting selected and whether your body can do that.

“I think those type of decisions, as far as that’s concerned, become pretty obvious if you allow what’s pretty natural to happen. I didn’t have to persuade him, no.”

He is delighted that the 101 times-capped O’Mahony is going to lead the team into battle over the coming weeks, adding: “There are a few candidates because we have got some great leadership within the group, and that will continue to grow. Peter will be at the heart of that to help it.

“There are certain people that make the room feel right. It is pretty important around the place, and certainly on match day, that you have that type of person in the dressing room, and Peter is certainly one of those.

“Just being himself and helping others to grow. I know he will do the country proud.”